How To Manage Extreme Fatigue

In this article you will discover 8 fatigue-zapping tips that really work!

Extreme Fatigue

Fight fatigue

Fatigue is a symptom, not a disease, and it is experienced differently by different people.

The fatigue you feel at the end of a long, stressful day or after a time zone change might seem similar to the long-lasting fatigue resulting from an illness. Nearly everyone struggles with being overtired or overworked from time to time. Everyone is familiar with all-out energy drain, that exhausted feeling when no matter how enticing that new movie, fabulous clothes sale, or friendly family dinner, we just can’t psych ourselves up to go. The difference is that fatigue from stress or lack of sleep usually subsides after a good night’s rest, while extreme fatigue is more persistent and may be debilitating even after restful sleep.

This low-grade energy drain or extreme fatigue is harder to recognize, lasts longer and is more profound. It’s a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and diminishes your energy and mental capacity. Fatigue at this level impacts your emotional and psychological well-being as well.

In some cases, extreme fatigue is a symptom of an underlying medical problem that requires medical treatment.

Extreme fatigue causes

In general, most cases of extreme fatigue may be attributed to three areas: lifestyle factors, psychological problems or medical conditions.

Some fatigue causes related to lifestyle include:

  1. Alcohol use or abuse
  2. Caffeine over use
  3. Excessive physical activity
  4. Inactivity
  5. Lack of sleep
  6. Medications, such as cough and cold remedies, prescription pain medications, heart medications, and some antidepressants
  7. Unbalanced eating habits

Psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, grief and stress may also be the cause of fatigue. There are also medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia and many others that may cause extreme fatigue.

What about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is defined by a set of symptoms.  Specifically, CFS is characterized by severe and debilitating extreme fatigue that lasts for six months or longer and is not relieved by rest, plus at least four of the following for at least six months:

• impaired memory or concentration

• sore throat

• swollen glands in the neck and under the arms

• pain in muscles

• pain in multiple joints, without redness and swelling

• headaches that are different in some way from any experienced before

• tiredness even after sleeping

• exhaustion following physical exertion.

The diagnosis of CFS can be made only if a person does not have another active medical condition that could cause chronic fatigue (such as anemia, cancer, or multiple sclerosis), nor depression, substance abuse, etc.

The symptoms of CFS tend to wax and wane, but most people remain impaired to some degree, even on their good days. Unlike other causes of persistent fatigue, which come on gradually, CFS often appears suddenly, with an infectious-like illness (having symptoms such as fever, sore throat, aching muscles, etc.).

Fatigue after eating and some fatigue symptoms

If food is energy, does eating more food help you feel more energetic? Unfortunately, consuming more calories than you need won’t give you extra energy. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Not only what you eat, but how much you eat is important when trying to eat for energy and to manage fatigue. Overeating can do more harm to your energy levels than you may realize. Much attention is given to the physical consequences of overeating such as weight gain, high cholesterol and an increased risk of disease.  While these long-term consequences are important, there are also serious, immediate consequences that overeating causes to our energy levels.

Your body has to work hard to store excess food, so your energy levels crash immediately following a large meal. This decrease in energy has many effects on your body, which can be broken down into physical, emotional and mental effects.

Physical: extreme fatigue, sluggish, headaches, less likely to exercise, trouble sleeping, etc.

Emotional: guilty, frustrated, impatient, apathetic, irritable, poor self esteem, etc.

Mental: reduced ability to concentrate and stay alert, less creative, less productive, etc.


Extreme Fatigue Causes and What You Can Do About It

1. Graze so not to gorge. Aim to eat light and eat often. Eat 4-6 small meals per day. Spacing out your meals and snacks will help regulate your blood glucose levels and help sustain your energy levels throughout the day. If you are always tired and want to know how to get more energy then this is one of the key strategies you should try to put into practice.

2. Manage your portions. Overeating can do more harm to your energy levels than you may realize. Your body has to work hard to store excess food, so your energy levels may crash immediately following a large meal. Keep snacks to 500-750 kilojoules (150 calories) and meals to 1200-2000 kilojoules (360 calories). Reading food labels when you have the opportunity will help you become a kilojoule guru.

3. Jump start your day. Are your mornings a riot? The transition between hitting the snooze button on the alarm and walking out the door ready ‘n motivated is the very first hurdle of day. But you don’t dare walk out the door with an empty stomach and risk low energy levels by 11am. After all, breakfast is the battery to jumpstart your day.

Starting your day with a balanced breakfast will not only boost your energy, it will most definitely lift your mood too, and no, a balanced breakfast would not be a cup of coffee in each hand. A balanced breakfast is one that provides some fibre and also some protein. The fibre from fruit or cereals generally comes along with vitamins and minerals and the protein from dairy, eggs, or fish will help keep your blood sugar steady meaning you won’t launch into that pre-lunch irritability in the middle of a meeting with your client or the boss.

Here are some grab-and-go morning meal ideas that are portable, filling and nutritious.

Smoothies: Whiz together this mood boosting smoothie in a blender: One banana, add a handful of frozen or fresh berries, a handful each of almonds and oats, some vanilla yoghurt, milk and ice cubes.

Low GI baked goodies: Slow releasing baked goods such as muffins, rusks and lower GI bread will help sustain your energy and help you get through to lunch without a grumbling stomach. Make sure that you stock up on these by either baking them yourself when you have time, over weekends perhaps – great recipes from Snacks and Treats for Sustained Energy by G Steenkamp and L Delport or getting these goodies delivered to your front door ( I generally keep a bag of low GI rusks close at hand and low GI muffins in the freezer for a really quick energy boost with my morning cup of tea.

Breakfast sandwich-to-go: This is a great idea that you can prepare in less than 10 minutes. Try making sandwiches the night before. It’s not a lot of work to do, and it’s better than dropping on the couch in front of the TV. The next morning all you’d have to do is open the fridge and grab breakfast. Ideally, use a lower GI higher fibre bread and fill up with some protein such as lean cold meat, low fat cheese, natural nut butters or boiled egg with a little low fat mayonnaise. Jazz up your sandwich by adding pepperdews, sundried tomatoes, guerkins, mustard, capers or a little relish or sweet chili sauce.

Bircher-type muesli: Having oats is an awesome start to any day, all that soluble fibre fills you up and may even lower your cholesterol levels. To save time, I usually make a few batches of this recipe and keep it in the fridge for up to a week. For a single batch mix the following together and refrigerate overnight: 5-7 tablespoons of raw oats, ½ -1 cup fat free milk, 1 small grated apple, 1 tablespoon raisins or chopped dried apricots, 1 teaspoon sunflower seeds, a few drops of vanilla essence and cinnamon to taste.

4. Fast food doesn’t equal fast energy. Grabbing high fat, high sugar, refined foods made with low quality ingredients will increase your waistline, but not your energy levels. Most take away type meals are unbalanced as they lack adequate vegetables. In the category of Things Your Mother Was Right About All Along, you really and truly should eat your vegetables.

Fruit and vegetables are an important component of a healthy diet and, if consumed daily in sufficient amounts, could help prevent diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers. They also help with weight loss as they are very low in kilojoules and fat.

The recommended intake is a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day (excluding potatoes and other starchy tubers) for the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as for the prevention and alleviation of several micronutrient deficiencies.

400 g equates to about 5 servings a day with a serving equalling approximately a hand- or fistful, i.e. 1 piece of fruit, ½ cup cooked veg, 1 full cup of salad.

Tips on how to eat more fruit and vegetables daily:

No matter where you are eating, remember to fill half of your plate with colour from nature’s colour palette: salad or vegetables.

  • Have a fruit smoothie or add a piece of fruit to your breakfast.
  • Double your normal serving size of vegetables
  • Eat raw and dried fruit and raw vegetables as snacks
  • Use fruit in your cereal in the morning (bananas, apples, grapes, berries, etc.)
  • Make a fruit salad or try baked fruit for dessert (use fruit in season — apples, bananas, peaches, pears)
  • Eat a vegetarian dinner at least twice a week
  • Try using all parts of the plant, e.g. beetroot bulb and leaves, carrot tops
  • If you have access to a fridge at work, start each week by taking along a container with assembled lunch basics. Include salad vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, small cucumbers, sweet peppers and other crudites. Add cottage cheese, cheese wedges, hard-boiled eggs, tuna in brine, small tins of baked beans, high-fibre crackers, yoghurts, etc. Assembling your own lunch from your supply of basics will be faster than fighting the canteen queues or walking across the road to a local takeaway. Your assembled lunch will also be healthier and sustain your energy throughout the afternoon.
  • Home-made vegetable soups are a smart way to add generous amounts of vegetables to a meal. Make vegetable soups in bulk and freeze in smaller batches.
  • Roasting vegetables in larger quantities and keeping them chilled for a few days makes for quick reheating and adding to meals, or for instant use in salads.
  • Prepare or eat more vegetable-based meals such as stir-fries, salads, roasted vegetables or vegetable soup.

Other lifestyle strategies to help you manage fatigue symptoms: 

5. Walk Around the Block

While it may seem as if moving about when you feel exhausted is the quickest route to feeling more exhausted, the opposite is true. Physical activity such as walking increases energy levels. However, do not over-exert yourself. For example, walk and perform light resistance activities, slowly increasing the duration and intensity of the exercise.

6. Time planning tips

Plan your day or week ahead of time. Focus on accomplishing the most important activities, and build in plenty of time to rest and take breaks.
Learn to take breaks before you get too tired. Resting regularly will help you participate in activities longer.

7. Roll in the routine

Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. If possible, follow the same bedtime routine each night.

8. Stretch some

Consider relaxation techniques such as stretching or deep breathing to reduce anxiety and stress.
Be patient. Recovering from fatigue can take months, and pushing yourself too hard often causes relapses.

Consider implementing all of the tips above on how to manage extreme fatigue and perhaps you will be able to bring the spring back into your step.